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‘It’s saved us’: Indigenous Greater Victoria caterers grow food from rooftop garden

‘Just having that product there for when we need it, it helps a tremendous amount’

Gary Henry, the sous chef for Songhees Events & Catering, arrives at his kitchen around 7 a.m. to prepare for his busy day ahead.

Part of his prep is heading up to the company’s sunny rooftop garden to harvest fresh, vegetables, fruit, spices and even flowers that are all used in the company’s cooking and baking.

“The rooftop garden … it’s saved us in so many ways. Just having that product there for when we need it, it helps a tremendous amount,” said Henry.

He’s been with the company since 2016 when it was just five cooks running their Songhees food truck, which Henry said was the first Indigenous food truck on Vancouver Island. Then the group expanded into catering events.

“We have kale, patty pan squash, zucchini, tomatoes, just a variety of different ingredients,” said executive chef David Roger. He’s proud to be a part of the group, saying “we’re a unique catering company. It’s not all about the numbers. It’s about making sure that everyone is looked after. I like to think of it as more of a family. That separates us from other catering companies.”

Roger has been with the group since it was just a training program for students in the culinary arts, events, and tourism course at Camosun College. Currently, there are two students doing their apprenticeships with them.

“Once we started doing all types of food the word got out and all of a sudden it just turned into a business,” said Roger. “Then right before COVID, we had the catering company that basically exploded, we just took off. Now we’re doing large outside catering events.” The Esquimalt company mostly does government lunches and lunches at Camosun College, but from time to time they do weddings.

“Everything we do here circles around the bannock,” said Henry, suggesting it might be the only thing the group relies on more than their garden. “The first thing we have to look at is bannock bread. Bannock bread usually takes the longest to make. We use it for desserts, the food truck for all the sandwiches, then we use it for events, we use it for our soups that we do throughout the day. So, yeah, the bannock is a huge part of our business.”

As the baker for the business, Cynthia Sheena is the only person who shows up earlier than Henry.

“On a light day, it’s around 6:30 a.m., on a heavy day it could be anywhere from 4 a.m.,” Sheena said. “Setting up the stove, warming everything up, and I’m here by myself for about three or four hours just getting things ready pastry-wise.”

Although the company bakes many different types of goods, the bannock that has a seventh-generation recipe is the most requested item.

A large part of Sheena’s role is recalculating the amount of bannock they need for different each event, which can vary from only 16 rolls to 500. The bannock they make can be used for many different types of food, including burgers, bread to go with soups, ice cream bowls and strawberry shortcakes.

But the most popular item is their bannock bites. The bannock bites are their original creation, with apple and wild berry being their most popular.

The family recipe and tradition was a significant memory for Sheena.

“Back home for me, it was actually done with what they would call ‘out of rock.’ They would have a sheet of rock where they would have to go up the mountain with like a three-by-four and it was very thin. You would take it and put it over a fire, and when you made your bread you would put in over there. A little oil you put on there and then you flip it. You would share it with everybody who was there in your campsite, whether you were picking berries, or whether you were in the mountain gathering wood for the next season, or hunting, it was part of tradition for you to know your own recipe.”

The company is still growing a lot and is in the middle of changing its menu as the season does.

Roger is thankful for the team he has and says, “I’m very proud of them and where we came from.”

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About the Author: Ella Matte

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